Yugoslavia was invaded by German, Italian and Hungarian troops from 6 April 1941. The country capitulated on 17 April and Germans, Italians, Hungarians and Bulgarians occupied and partitioned the country. On 10 April 1941 the Germans troops entered Zagreb, and the Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna država Hrvatska – NDH) was proclaimed. The NDH included Bosnia and Herzegovina, but parts of Dalmatia were annexed by Italy, and Međimurje, the northern tip of Croatia, was annexed by Hungary. The Ustaše movement and its leader (Poglavnik), Ante Pavelić, assumed authority in this state under joint Fascist and Nazi supervision. The new Croatian state was divided roughly in half into German and Italian military-controlled zones. The Independent State of Croatia effectively ceased to exist in May 1945.
At the outbreak of the Second World War 23,000 to 25,000 Jews lived in Croatia out of an estimated total population of 2,481,000 according to the 1931 census. Anti-Jewish persecution started as early as 11 April 1941. Between April 1941 and October 1942, the authorities of the NDH proclaimed and implemented a number of ministerial regulations, mostly against the Jews, but some were also anti-Roma and anti-Serb. On 30 April 1941, the three key anti-Jewish legal decrees were proclaimed: the Law Decree on Race, the Law Decree on the Protection of Aryan Blood and Honor of the Croatian People and the Law Decree on Citizenship, which was the legal basis for acts of terror committed against the Jews. As early as the end of May, the Gestapo and Ustaša began to conduct mass-arrests, deportations to concentration camps and the killing of members of Croatian Jewry. The Ustaša established almost 30 work and detention camps that served as transit points to concentration and death camps for Jewish arrestees. Many Jews fled to the Italian-annexed and occupied zones of the country, where they were relatively safe until September of 1943, when Italy capitulated. Out of a pre-war Jewish population of 25,000 (data from 1940), only around 4,000 or 5,000 survived the Second World War.
The archival service in Croatia is regulated by the Archives and Archival Institutions Act. It defines archival service as a mandatory public service of special importance for the Republic of Croatia, and archival holdings as a form of cultural heritage. Under the authority of the Ministry of Culture, the archival service’s task is to protect the integrity of the country’s archival holdings and to disseminate information about them. The network of public archives currently consists of the Croatian State Archive (Hrvatski državni arhiv, HDA) in Zagreb as the central archival institution, and 18 regional archives. The Croatian State Archive is responsible for documents of central administration bodies and other records significant for the Republic of Croatia. The regional archives are responsible for the records of local government (towns, municipalities and counties), regional state bodies and other creators within their purview, which can include private organisations and institutions, business entities, and distinguished families and individuals. Furthermore, there are 8 city archives which act as archival departments. Among other departments, the HDA has the following: the Department for the Protection and Processing of Archival Records; the Department for Information and Communication; the IT Department; the Croatian Film Archives; the Central Laboratory for Conservation and Restoration; the Central Laboratory for Photography; the Department of Comprehensive and Financial Services; and the Department of Archives of the Archdiocese of Zagreb. In addition to the state archives, there are collections in some church archives, private archives and museums.
Before EHRI, there were only limited surveys available on Holocaust archives in Croatia, which had been conducted by the Croatian State Archives and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. EHRI updated the information on a dozen archival institutions, which it took over from the previous Claims Conference / Yad Vashem databases. Together with the addition of newly identified institutions, there are now some 30 CHIs in Croatia on the EHRI Portal. Next, EHRI identified the collections via a top-down approach starting with the institutions with the largest number of relevant collections (Croatian State Archive, The State Archive of the City of Zagreb; as well as those of cities like Slavonski Brod, Osijek, etc.). By March 2015, well over 100 collection descriptions had been added to over a dozen different repositories.
A. EHRI approach to Croatia: Pre-existing research and archival guides, expert support
In order to investigate and identify Holocaust-related sources in Croatian archives, EHRI enlisted a local expert and reviewed the pertinent research. EHRI was able to draw on pre-existing research, such as: Slavko Goldstein’s 1941: The Year That Keeps Returning (2013); Alexander Korb’s Im Schatten des Weltkriegs: Massengewalt der Ustasa gegen Serben, Juden und Roma in Kroatien 1941-1945 (2013); Ivo and Slavko Goldstein’s Holokaust u Zagrebu (2001); Zlata Živaković-Kerže, Stradanja i pamćenja: Holokaust u Osijeku i život koji se nastavlja (2006); and Narcisa Lengel Krizman ed. Zna li se: Antisemitizam – Holokaust – Antifašizam (1996).
As a result, a number of useful finding aids were identified. Online search tools are provided by both the Croatian State Archives and the National and University Library:
- Arhinet (http://arhinet.arhiv.hr)
- Biblionet (http://biblionet.arhiv.hr/)
- The National and University Library (https://www.nsk.hr)
A more traditional guide with general information about archives in Croatia is Igor Karaman’s Studije i prilozi iz arhivistike (Arhiv Hrvatske, 1993, Zagreb).
Furthermore, in Autumn/Winter 2013, the Croatian State Archives published an online paper presenting Holocaust-relevant collections (http://zagreb.arhiv.hr/hr/teme/holokaust.htm). It should also be noted that most collections in the Croatian State Archive and its regional branches throughout the country have their own finding aids with descriptions of what can be found in which box of an entire collection. Some collections are better explored than others, often depending on the interests of archivists who use the collections for PhD theses or other post-doc works. However, they are available only in the archives themselves, and not online. The Review of Archival Collections (Pregled arhivskih fondova i zbirki), which presents overviews of all collections within the State Archive network, is available in every Croatian State Archive. It does not, however, single out 'Holocaust' as a keyword. Its latest edition (2006) is not available in pdf.
As for surveys by third parties the USHMM has been intermittently active in Croatia since the late 1990s. During the 1990s, local experts surveyed and copied war-time material at the Zagreb State Archives. It currently leads an endeavor to digitise material from other state archives in the country and pre-war records from Zagreb. The USHMM is also helping the Jewish Community in Zagreb archive to sort its material, which will later be digitised. The microfilmed collections from the Second World War (surveyed in the 1990s), plus scanned material from the interwar period and the Second World War (ongoing survey) from different repositories around the country is gradually being put online. Post-war material still remains to be identified.
B. Characteristics of the Croatian archival system and specific challenges
All collections are usually accessible to the public, but if a file refers to a person who was born less than 100 years ago, it will not be possible to copy that file. Each archival director is responsible for the approval of requests to scan or copy specific material submitted by individual research projects rather than through a more global agreement between institutions.
Although important online search tools are available, they are of limited use for Holocaust scholars. Furthermore, keywords such as ‘Jewish’ or ‘Holocaust’ will not produce many results in these online search databases. Some collection descriptions on Arhinet mention that ‘part of the material was copied for the needs of USHMM’ (but typing ‘USHMM’ into the search box will not lead one to collections copied for the USHMM).
Knowledge of regional history, on how institutions were organized, and of who (or which political body) was in charge at given dates in time is essential to find relevant information within the body of archival material. In some cases, there is a high probability of identifying Holocaust-relevant files, such as in the Ministry of the Interior files relating to the Second World War, but often it is more like ‘finding a needle in a haystack’. Researchers need to rely on assistance from local archivist to identify or at least narrow down the search for relevant information to a number of collections. However, this can still leave one with hundreds of boxes to consult without any firm indication of what they may contain.
Researchers are encouraged to contact the archival staff prior to their visit to explain the topic of their research and ask for advice on which collections could be valuable for their research. Employees in smaller archives who do not speak English will usually forward the email to somebody who does and reply within a few days.
C. EHRI identification and description results on Croatia
C. I. In Croatia
EHRI identified and investigated Holocaust-relevant archival institutions and collections in Croatia in close cooperation with USMM and Yad Vashem. The Croatian State Archive in Zagreb and the State Archive of the City of Zagreb are of particular importance. Two other state archives, in Osijek (in the eastern part of the country, close to the Hungarian and Serbian border) and Rijeka (a port town near Italy) are equally important. These two archives are regional centers; Osijek has a rich Jewish history and was home to the second largest Jewish community in Croatia and during the Second World War the border town of Rijeka received thousands of Jewish refugees who had escaped to the Italian sector where life for Jews was somewhat more secure (at least for a while). Three other towns with state archives and a relatively rich Jewish history are Varaždin, in the north, Slavonski Brod, on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, which also has a relatively strong and as yet under-researched Jewish heritage, and Split, on the southern coast. Until the 19th century, Split’s Jewish community mostly consisted of Sephardic Jews, but this community also had roots dating back to the Roman period.
Apart from the State Archives, other important collection-holding institutions are the National and University Library in Zagreb (which stores interwar Jewish periodicals, some of which were published until April/May 1941), and the library and archive of the Jewish community center in Zagreb. At the time of writing, the latter is not yet open to the public as it is awaiting archival renovation and the sorting of its archival material into collections. There are smaller Jewish community archives, which do not function as public institutions. One needs to first contact somebody from the local Jewish community to find out where they are and if their holdings can be consulted. However, the majority of archival collections of different Jewish communities in Croatia are held in the Jewish Historical Museum in Belgrade, Serbia.
Other relevant institutions for Holocaust research in Croatia include the Documentation Center for Holocaust Victims and Survivors (CENDO), the Jasenovac Memorial and the History Museum of Croatia in Zagreb. The latter reported that they have some possibly interesting material concerning Croatian Jewish families within the Documentation and Information Department, and in the Photography department. However, the museum is under-staffed, so the archives have not been completely sorted and are not recognized as ‘Holocaust material’ even though many of the families whose lives are documented perished during the war. The museum would like to see these materials labelled as Holocaust-related in the future. A similar situation applies to the Museum of Slavonia (‘Brodsko Posavlje’) in Slavonski Brod.
The Archdiocesan Archives are now a part of the Croatian State Archive system, but some collections are held in a separate location within the church. Therefore, it has been added as a separate institution.
C.II. In other countries
With the exception of the USHMM and Yad Vashem, EHRI has yet to determine which archival institutions and collections outside of Croatia are relevant to Holocaust research on Croatia. However, archival institutions in other former Yugoslav successor states, such as the Military Archives and the Archives of Yugoslavia in Belgrade, are likely to hold relevant collections.